As she has steadily climbed the WTA rankings over the past two seasons, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur has become more of a household name, both at home and abroad.
A picture tells a story of Jabeur's reach
Tunisian is humbled by her inclusion in a poster featuring Roland-Garros legends that includes Federer, Serena and Yannik Noah
But even Jabeur, the current world No.26 and the first Arab woman to ever reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, didn’t expect to see her face on a Roland-Garros promotional poster that also featured such luminaries such as Roger Federer, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Yannick Noah, Serena Williams and the iconic René Lacoste.
She said she knew nothing of the advertisement until her husband and fitness trainer Karim Kammoun spotted it on a Parisian sidewalk in the leafy Porte d’auteuil neighborhood, flanking the Roland-Garros grounds.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was walking by and Karim was, like, ‘Oh, my God, this is Ons Jabeur!’ I really appreciate it. I took a picture right away and posted it on Instagram.”
In the short video the camera briefly pans across the faces of the featured legends, zooming past Williams and Jennifer Capriati before pausing at Jabeur, ecstatic after victory, and flanked by Noah, the last French man to win the Roland-Garros crown.
The camera then pans to Jabeur, who is standing next to the banner, grinning proudly beneath her mask.
It’s not about personal recognition for the 26-year-old Jabeur. The 2011 Roland-Garros girls’ singles champion is as down-to-earth as they come, but she loves the idea of inspiring others.
As the most successful Tunisian and Arab woman in WTA history, Jabeur is both humbled and motivated by the growing publicity her success attracts.
“At first it was surprising,” she said. “I had to take a picture and post on Instagram. The reaction from a lot of people is also surprising for me. It reminds me that I have people who are really following and they really appreciate what I'm doing, so it gives me a lot of courage to play even better here.”
Jabeur, who reached the fourth at Roland-Garros for the first time in 2020, wants to make her fans proud and inspire the next generation of Tunisians.
“I know there are a lot of Tunisians following me right now, even outside Tunisia, and it's getting bigger and bigger, the fans outside Tunisia. I appreciate that. I hope I can give a good image for myself, for my country, and for my continent,” added the 26-year-old.
Jabeur will begin her fourth main draw appearance at Roland-Garros with an opening-round clash against two-time quarter-finalist Yulia Putintseva.
It’s a difficult draw, but the realisation that she’s playing for more than herself in Paris could give Jabeur the motivation to get over the line against the feisty Kazakh.
"It will get me really in the game and make me play really good,” she said. “I know she's a tough player - it's not going to be an easy first round that's for sure. It's going to be like a decider - either I'm going to play good in this tournament or not. Honestly, no pressure, I'm just going to play my game."
The North African has enjoyed a strong season so far, notching a 20-9 win-loss record that includes a run to the final on the green clay courts of Charleston.
She had to retire while up a set against Belinda Bencic in the Madrid last-16 stage with a right thigh injury earlier this month, but is choosing to see the setback as a blessing in disguise, as it gave her the chance to spend some precious time at home with family before coming to Paris - a city where she tasted her first big success as a young teen.
"I have a lot of history coming here at Roland-Garros, winning the juniors, like doing great last year. Now, I have different pressure of me going to the second week." said Jabeur, who practised with defending champion Iga Swiatek on Friday.
"But I enjoy playing on clay, to be honest. I love sliding. I love how the drop shots are going really well. I'm just trying to enjoy every match. I have kind of a difficult opening here. But it's a Grand Slam, so you always expect everybody to play really good."